He hurried across the parking lot, through a nasty stinging rain,
and into the entrance of the Marbury Memorial Hospital. Under his
right arm, in a dark brown satchel, was the life history of a
He shrugged droplets of water from his raincoat and left wet
tracks on the jade-green linoleum floor as he approached the
nurse at the central information desk. He recognized Mrs. Curtis,
and she said good morning and opened a drawer to get a nametag
"Wet day," she commented, her glasses resting on the
edge of her nose as she watched him sign in. "Lot of doctors
going to make some money off this weather.''
"I imagine so." He dripped a few water spots on the
page and tried to brush them away before they sank through. In
firm, spiky penmanship, he wrote Dr. Jack Shannon, followed by the
date and time, 10/16 and 10:57 a.m., and his destination,
8th floor. He looked up the list of other names and noted that the
public defender, Mr. Foster, was not yet here. Should he wait in
the lobby or go up alone? He decided to wait. No sense rushing
"Full caseload today?" Mrs. Curtis asked him. It was in
her voice. She knew. Of course she knows. Jack thought. Probably
the entire hospital staff knew, and certainly Mrs. Curtis, who'd
been a fixture behind the information desk for the six years that
Jack had been coming here, would know. The newspapers had
screamed the case, and so had the T.V. stations. "No,"
he said. "Just seeing one."
"Uh huh." She waited for him to say more, and pretended
to watch the rain falling past the picture window. The sky was
gray, the rain was gray, and all the color of the forest that
surrounded Marbury Memorial seemed to be shades of gray as well.
The city of Birmingham lay about four miles to the west, hidden
by clouds that had skulked into the valley and settled there,
brooding. It was Alabama autumn at its worst, humid and heavy
enough to make bones moan. Just three days ago, the air had been
cool enough for Marbury Memorial's custodial staff to shut down
the air-conditioners; they remained off, and the old
hospital—built out of red bricks and gray stone in
1947—held heat and dampness in its walls, exuding them in
stale breaths that moved ghostlike through the corridors.
"Well," Mrs. Curtis said at last, and pushed her
glasses off her nose with a wiry finger, "I expect you've
Jack didn't answer. He wasn't sure he had seen worse; and, in
fact, he was quite sure he had not. He wished Mrs. Curtis a good
day and walked to the lobby's seating area, facing the picture
window and the grayness beyond. He found a discarded newspaper,
took off his wet raincoat and sat down to kill some time, because
he didn't care to go up to the eighth floor without the public
And there it was, on page one: a picture of the Clausen house,
and a story with the headline Juvenile Held in Bizarre Triple
Slaying. Jack looked at the picture as rain tapped on the window
nearby. It was just a white-painted suburban house with front
porch and three stone steps, a neatly-trimmed yard and a carport.
Nothing special about it, really; just one of many hundreds in
that area of town. It looked like a house where Tupperware
parties might be hosted, where cakes would be baked in a small
but adequate kitchen and folks would hunker down in front of the
den's T.V. to watch football games on Saturday afternoons, in a
neighborhood where everybody knew each other and life was
pleasant. It looked all-American and ordinary, except for one
clue: the bars on the windows.
Of course a lot of people bought those wrought-iron burglar bars
and placed them over the windows and doors. Unfortunately, that
was part of modern civilization—but these burglar bars were
different. These were set inside the windows, not on the outside.
These appeared to have the purpose of keeping something in,
rather than keeping intruders out. Other than the strange
placement of the burglar bars, the Clausen house was neither
especially attractive nor displeasing. It just was.
On page two the story continued, and there were pictures of the
victims. A grainy wedding photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Clausen, a
fourth-grade school shot of the little girl. Thank God there were
no pictures of the house's interior after the slayings, Jack
thought; he was already having a tough enough time maintaining
his professional composure.
He put the newspaper aside. There was nothing new in the story,
and Jack could've recited the facts from memory. Everything was
contained in the satchel, and the rest of what Jack sought to
know lay in the mind of a boy on the eighth floor.
He listened to the rhythm of the hospital—the polite
bing-bonging of signal bells through the intercom system,
followed by requests for various doctors; the quiet, intense
conversations of other people, friends and relatives of patients,
in the seating area; the squeak of a nurse's shoes on the
linoleum; the constant opening and closing of elevator doors. An
ambulance's siren wailed from the emergency entrance on the west
side of the hospital. A wheelchair creaked past, a black nurse
pushing a pregnant dark-haired woman to the elevators en route to
the maternity ward on the second floor. Two austere doctors in
white coats stood talking to an elderly man, his face gray and
stricken; they all entered an elevator together, and the numbers
marched upward. The daily patterns of life and death were in full
motion here. Jack mused. A hospital seemed to be a universe in
itself, teeming with small comedies and tragedies, an abode of
miracles and secrets from the morgue in its chill basement to the
eighth-floor's wide corridors where mental patients paced like
He checked his wristwatch. Eleven-thirteen. Foster was running
late, and that wasn't his usual—
Jack looked up. Standing next to his chair was a tall red-haired
woman, raindrops clinging to her coat and rolling off her
closed-up umbrella. "Yes," he said.
"I'm Kay Douglas, from the public defender's office."
She offered a hand, and he stood up and shook it. Her grip was
sturdy, all-business, and did not linger. "Mr. Foster can't
make it today."
"Oh. I thought the appointment was set."
"It was, but Mr. Foster has other business. I'm to take his
Jack nodded. "I see." And he did: Bob Foster had
political ambitions. Being directly associated with a case like
this, with all the attendant publicity, was not expedient for
Foster's career. Naturally, he'd send an aide. "Fine with
me," Jack said. "Are you signed in?"
"Yes. Shall we go?" She didn't wait for him to agree;
she turned and walked with a purposeful stride to the elevators,
and he followed a few steps behind.
They shared an elevator with a young, fresh-faced couple and a
slim black nurse; the couple got off on two, and when the nurse
departed on the fourth floor. Jack said, "Have you met him
"No, not yet. Have you?"
He shook his head. The elevator continued its ascent, old gears
creaking. The woman's pale green eyes watched the numbers advance
above the door. "So Mr. Foster thought this was a little too
hot to handle, huh?" Jack said. She didn't respond. "I
don't blame him. The prosecutor gets all the good publicity in
cases like this."
"Dr. Shannon," she said, and gave him a quick, piercing
glance, "I don't think there's ever been a case like this
before. I hope to God there isn't another."
The elevator jarred slightly, slowing down as it reached the
uppermost floor. The doors rumbled open, and they had reached
Marbury Memorial's psychiatric ward.
"Hiya, docky!" a silver-haired woman in a bright blue
shift, Adidas sneakers and a headband called out, marching along
the corridor toward him. Her face was a mass of wrinkles, her
lips rubbery and daubed with crimson lipstick. "You come to
see me today?"
"Not today, Margie. Sorry."
"Shit! Docky, I need a bridge partner! Everybody's crazy up
here!" Margie looked long and hard at Kay Douglas.
"Who's this? Your girlfriend?"
"No. Just ... a friend," he said, to simplify things.
"Red hair on the head don't exactly mean red hair on the
pussy," Margie warned, and Kay's face flushed to a similar
hue. A gaunt, elderly man dressed immaculately in a pinstriped
suit, white shirt and tie strode up, making a low grunting noise
in his throat. "Stop that shit, Ritter!" Margie
demanded. "Nobody wants to hear your 'gator
Other people were approaching from up and down the corridor. Kay
retreated a pace, and heard the elevator doors hiss shut at her
back. She looked over her shoulder, noting that the elevator on
this floor had no button, but was summoned by a key.
"Now you're caught!" Margie said to her, with a crooked
smile. "Just like us!"
"Ain't nobody said we was gonna have us a parade this
mornin'!" a mighty voice boomed. "Give Doc Shannon room
to breathe, now!" A husky black nurse with white hair,
massive girth and legs like dark logs moved toward Jack and Kay.
Ritter gave her one more throaty grunt, like an alligator's love
song, and then obeyed the nurse.
"Docky's come up to see me today, Rosalee!" Margie
protested. "Don't be rude!"
"He ain't come up to see nobody on our ward," Rosalee
told her. The black woman had gray eyes, set in a square and
rugged face. "He's got other business."
"What other business?"
"Rosalee means Dr. Shannon's on his way to see the new
arrival," said a younger man. He sat in a chair across the
corridor, turned to face the elevator. "You know. The crazy
"Watch your mouth, Mr. Chambers," Rosalee said curtly.
"There are ladies present."
"Women, yeah. Ladies, I'm not so sure." He was in his
mid-thirties, wore faded jeans and a blue-checked shirt with
rolled-up sleeves, and he took a draw on a cigarette and plumed
smoke into the air. "You a lady, miss?" he asked Kay,
staring at her with dark brown, deep-socketed eyes.
She met his gaze. The man had a brown crewcut and the grizzle of
a beard, and he might have been handsome but for the boniness of
his face and those haunted eyes. "I've been told so."
she answered, and her voice only quavered a little bit.
"Yeah?" he grinned wolfishly. "Well. . . somebody
"Show some respect now, Mr. Chambers." Rosalee
cautioned. "We want to be courteous to our visitors, and all
those who don't care to be courteous might have their smokin'
privileges yanked. Got it?" She stood, hands on huge hips,
waiting for a response.
He regarded the cigarette's burning end for a few seconds in
silence. Then, grudgingly: "Got it."
"How're you feeling today, Dave?" Jack asked, glad the
little drama had been resolved. "You still have
"Uh huh. One big fat black bitch of a headache."
"Out." Rosalee's voice was low this time, and Jack knew
she meant business. "Put your cigarette out, Mr.
He puffed on it, still grinning.
"I said put the cigarette out, please sir." She stepped
toward him. "I won't ask you again."
One last long draw, and Dave Chambers let the smoke leak through
his nostrils. Then he opened his mouth and popped the burning
butt inside. Kay gasped as the man's throat worked.
A little whorl of smoke escaped from between his lips. "That
suit you?" he asked the nurse.
"Yes, thank you." She glanced at Kay. "Don't fret,
ma'am. He does that trick all the time. Puts it out with his spit
before he swallers it."
"Better than some of the pigshit they give you to eat around
this joint," Dave said, drawing his legs up to his chest. He
wore scuffed brown loafers and white socks.
"I think I'd like some water." Kay walked past Rosalee
to a water fountain. A small woman with a bird's-nest of orange.
hair followed beside her like a shadow, and Kay tried very hard
not to pay any attention. Foster had told her Marbury Memorial's
mental ward was a rough place, full of county cases and
understaffed as well, but he'd voiced his confidence that she
could handle the task. She was twenty-eight years old, fresh from
a legal practice in south Alabama, and it was important to her
that she fit in at Foster's office. She'd only been on the job
for two months, and she presumed this was another one of the
public defender's tests; the first test, not three weeks ago, had
involved counting the bullet holes in a bloated, gassy corpse
dredged up from the bottom of Logan Martin lake.
"Good water. Yum yum," the woman with orange hair said,
right in her ear, and Kay gurgled water up her nose and dug
frantically in her purse for a tissue.
"Dr. Cawthorn's already in there." Rosalee nodded
toward the white door, way down at the end of the hallway. At
this distance the doorway seemed to float in the air, framed
between white walls and white ceiling. "Been there for maybe
"Has he pulled the boy out of containment yet?" Jack
"Doubt it. Wouldn't do that without you and the lawyer
there. She is a lawyer, ain't she?"
"Thought so. Got the lawyer's look about her. Anyways, you
know how Dr. Cawthorn is. Probably just sittin' in there,
"We're late. We'd better go in."
Margie grasped at his sleeve. "Docky, you watch out for that
fella. Saw his face when they brung him in. He'll shoot rays out
of his eyes and kill you dead, I swear to God he will."
"I'll remember that, thanks." He pulled gently free,
and gave Margie a composed smile that was totally false. His guts
had begun to chum, and his hands were icy. "Who's on
security?" he asked Rosalee.
"Gil Moon's on the door. Bobby Crisp's on desk duty."
"Good enough." He glanced back to make sure Kay was
ready to go. She was wiping her nose with a tissue and trying to
get away from the small orange-haired woman everyone knew as
'Kitten'. He started for the door, with Rosalee at his side and
Kay lagging behind.
"Better not go in there. Dr. Shannon!" Dave Chambers
warned. "Better stay away from that crazy fucker!"
"Sorry. It's my job," he answered.
"Fuck the job, man. You've only got one life."
Jack didn't reply. He passed the nurse's desk, where Mrs. Marion
and Mrs. Stewart were on duty, and continued on toward the door.
It seemed to be coming up much too fast. The documents and
photographs in his satchel emerged from memory with startling
clarity, and almost hobbled him. But he was a
psychiatrist—a very good one, according to his
credentials—and had worked with the criminally insane many
times before. This ought not to bother him. Ought not to.
Determining whether a person was fit to stand trial or not was
part of his job, and in that capacity he'd seen many things that
were distasteful. But this . . . this was different. The
photographs, the circumstances, the plain white house with
burglar bars inside the windows . . . very different, and deeply
The white door was there before he was ready for it. He pressed a
button on the wall and heard the buzzer go off inside. Through
the square of glass inset in the door. Jack watched Gil Moon
approach and take the proper key from the ring at his belt. Gil,
a barrel-chested man with close-cropped gray hair and eyes as
droopy as a hound's, nodded recognition and slid the key into the
lock. At the same time, Rosalee Partain put her own key into the
second lock. They disengaged with gunshot cracks, so loud they
made Kay jump. Steady! she told herself. You're supposed to be a
professional, so by God you'd better act like one!
The door, made of wood over metal, was pulled open. Gil said,
"Mornin', Dr. Shannon. Been expectin' you."
"Have fun," Rosalee said to Kay, and the nurse relocked
the door on her side after Gil had pushed it shut again.
He locked his side. "Dr. Cawthorn's down in the conference
room. Howdy do, miss."
"Hello," she said uneasily, and she followed Jack
Shannon and the attendant along a green tile-floored corridor
with locked doors on each side. The light was fluorescent and
harsh, and at the corridor's end was a single barred window that
faced gray woods. A slender young black man, wearing the same
white uniform as Gil Moon, sat behind a desk at the corridor's
midpoint; he'd been reading a Rolling Stone magazine and
listening to music over headphones, but he stood up as Shannon
approached. Bobby Crisp had large, slightly protuberant dark
brown eyes and wore a gold pin in his right nostril. "Hi,
Dr. Shannon," he said, glanced quickly at the red-haired
woman and gave her a nod of greeting.
"Morning, Bobby. How goes it?"
"It goes," he answered, with a shrug. "Just
floating between the worms and the angels, I guess."
"Guess so. Are we all set up?"
"Yes sir. Dr. Cawthorn's waiting in there." He motioned
toward the closed door marked Conference. "Do you want
Clausen out of containment now?"
"Yes, that'd be fine. Shall we?" Jack moved to the
conference room, opened it and held it for Kay.
Inside, there was gray carpet on the floor and pine paneling on
the walls. Barred windows with frosted glass admitted murky
light, and recessed squares of fluorescents glowed at the
ceiling. There was a single long table with three chairs at one
end and a single chair down at the other. At one of the three sat
a bald and brown-bearded man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and
reading from a file folder. He stood up when he saw Kay. "Uh
. . . hello. I thought Mr. Foster was coming."
"This is Kay Douglas, from Foster's office," Jack
explained. "Miss Douglas, this is Dr. Eric Cawthorn, head of
"Good to meet you." They shook hands, and Kay propped
her umbrella up in a comer, took off her damp raincoat and hung
it on a wall hook. Underneath, she was wearing a plain dark
pinstriped jacket and skirt.
"Well, I guess we're ready to proceed." Jack sat down
at the head of the table and put his satchel beside him, popping
it open. "I've asked that Clausen be brought out of
containment. Has he been difficult?"
"No, not at all." Cawthorn took his seat. "He's
been quiet since they brought him in, but for security reasons
we've kept him suppressed."
"Suppressed?" Kay sat down opposite Cawthorn.
"What's that mean?"
"Straitjacketed," he answered. His pale blue eyes cut
quickly to Jack and then returned to the woman. "It's
standard procedure when we have a case of vio—''
"But you said Mr. Clausen's been quiet since he was given
over to your custody. How do you justify a straitjacket for a
"Miss Douglas?" Jack brought a folder up from his
satchel and put it before him. "How much do you know about
this case? I know Foster must've briefed you, you've seen the
newspaper stories. But have you seen the police
"No. Mr. Foster said he wanted a fresh and unbiased
Jack smiled grimly. "Bullshit," he said. "Foster
knew you'd see the pictures here. He probably knew I'd show them
to you. Well, I won't disappoint him ... or you." He opened
the folder and pushed a half-dozen photographs across the table
Kay reached out for them. Jack saw her hand freeze in midair. The
picture on top showed a room with furniture shattered into
pieces, and on the walls were brown patterns that could only be
sprays of blood flung by violent motion. The words HAIL SATAN had
been drawn in gore, the letters oozing down to the baseboard.
Near those words, stuck to the wall, were yellow clots of ...
yes, she knew what they must be. Human tissue.
With one finger, she moved the top picture aside. The second
photograph drove a cold nail through her throat; it showed a pile
of broken limbs that had been flung like garbage into a room's
comer. A severed leg was propped up not unlike the umbrella she'd
just put aside. A smashed head lay in a gray puddle of brains.
Fingers clawed upward on disembodied hands. A torso had been
ripped open, spilling all its secrets.
"Oh," she whispered, and tasted hot bile.
And then the conference room's door opened again, and the boy who
had torn his mother, father and ten-year-old sister to pieces
With no hesitation. Tim Clausen went to the chair at the far end
of the table. Gil Moon and Bobby Crisp walked on either side,
though the boy did indeed wear a tightly-cinched straitjacket. He
sat down, the fluorescents blooming in the round lenses of his
glasses, and smiled at his visitors. It was a friendly smile,
with not a hint of menace. "Hi," he said.
"Hello, Tim," Dr. Cawthorn replied. "I'd like you
to meet Dr. Jack Shannon and Miss Kay Douglas. They're here to
talk to you."
"Of course they are. Nice to meet you."
Kay was still stunned by the pictures. She couldn't bear to look
at the third one, and she found it hard to look into the boy's
face, as well. She had read the case file, knew his description
and that he'd just turned seventeen, but the combination of the
photographs and Timothy Clausen's smiling, beatific face was
almost more than she could take. She pushed the pictures away and
sat with her hands tightly clenched in her lap, damning Foster
for not preparing her more thoroughly. This is the second test,
she realized. He wants to find out if I'm made of ice or crap.
"I like your hair," Tim Clausen said to her. "The
"Thank you," she managed, and shifted in her chair. The
boy's eyes were black and steady, two bits of coal in a pale face
marked here and there with the eruptions of acne. His hair was
light brown and had been cropped almost to the scalp. Beneath his
eyes were the violet hollows of either fatigue or madness.
Jack had been examining the boy as well. Tim Clausen was a small
boy for his age, and his head was oddly shaped, the cranium
bulging slightly; he seemed to hold his neck rigid, as if he
feared he couldn't balance the weight of his head. The boy looked
at each of them in turn—long, cool appraisals. He did not
"You can leave him with us," Cawthorn said to the two
attendants, and they moved out of the conference room and closed
the door. "Tim, how're you feeling today?"
His smile broadened. "Almost free."
"I mean physically. Any aches or pains, any
"No sir. I'm feeling just fine."
"Good." He took a minute to look through the notes
he'd written. "Do you know why you're here?"
"Sure." A pause.
"Would you like to tell us?"
"No," he replied. "I'm tired of answering
questions. Dr. Cawthorn. I'd like to ask some. Can I?"
"What kind of questions?"
Tim's attention drifted to Kay. "I want to know things
about these people. The lady first. Who are you?"
She glanced at Cawthorn, and he nodded that she should comply.
Jack had gathered the photographs back and was studying them, but
listening intently. "As Dr. Cawthorn said, my name is Kay
Douglas. I'm representing you with the public defender's
"No, no!" Tim interrupted, with an expression of
impatience. "Who are you? Like: are you married? Divorced?
Have any kids? What religion are you? What's your favorite
"Uh . . . well ... no, I'm not married." Divorced, yes,
but she wasn't about to tell him that. "No children.
I'm—" This is ridiculous! she thought. Why should she
be telling private things to this boy? He was waiting for her to
continue, his eyes impassive. "I'm Catholic," she went
on. "I guess my favorite color's green."
"Any boyfriends? You live alone?"
"I'm afraid I don't see what this has to do
"It's not fun to answer questions, is it?" Tim asked.
"Not fun at all. Well, if you want me to answer your
questions you'll have to answer mine first. You live alone, I
think. Probably dating a couple of guys. Maybe sleeping with
them, too." Kay couldn't control her blush, and Tim laughed.
"I'm right, huh? Knew I was! Are you a good Catholic or a
"Tim?" Cawthorn's voice was gentle but firm. "I
think you're overstepping a little bit now. We all want to get
this over as soon as possible, don't we?"
"Now you." Tim ignored Cawthorn, his eyes aimed at
Jack. "What's your story?"
Jack put aside a photograph that showed gory fingerpaintings on
the kitchen wall of the Clausen house. "I've been married
for fourteen years, my wife and I have two sons, I'm a Methodist
and my favorite color is dark blue. I have no extramarital
lovers, I'm a basketball fan and I like Chinese food. Anything
Tim hesitated. "Yes. Do you believe in God?'
"I believe . . . there's a supreme being, yes. How about
"Oh, I believe in a supreme being. Sure thing. Do you like
the taste of blood?"
Jack made sure he kept his face emotionless. "Not
"My supreme being does," Tim said. "He likes it a
lot." He rocked back and forth a few times, and the
straitjacket fabric rustled. His heavy head wobbled on his stalky
neck. "Okay. Just wanted to find out who my interrogators
"May I?" Jack inquired, and Cawthorn motioned for him
to go ahead. "Tim, what I'm trying to determine, with the
help of Miss Douglas and the public defender's office, is your
mental state on the night of October 12th, between the hours of
ten and eleven. Do you know what incident I'm referring to?"
Tim was silent, staring at one of the frosted-glass windows.
Then: "Sure. That's when they came. They trashed the place
"In your statement to Lieutenant Markus of the Birmingham
police department, you indicated 'they' came to your parent's
house, and that 'they'—" He found a photocopy of the
statement in his satchel and read the part he sought:
"Quoting, 'they did the damage. I couldn't do anything to
stop them, not even if I'd wanted to. I didn't. They came and did
the damage and after they were through they went home and I
called the cops because I knew somebody had heard the screaming.'
End quote. Is that correct, Tim?"
"Guess so." He kept staring at a fixed spot on the
window, just past Jack's shoulder. His voice sounded thick.
"Would you tell me who you meant by 'they'?"
Tim shifted again, and the straitjacket rubbed on his backrest. A
scatter of rain pelted the windows. Kay could feel her heart
pounding, and she had her hands folded tightly on the table
"My friends," Tim said quietly, "My best
"I see." He didn't really, but at least this was one
step forward. "Can you tell me their names?"
"Their names," Tim repeated. "You probably
couldn't pronounce them."
"You pronounce them for me, then."
"My friends don't like for just anybody to know their names.
Not their real names, at least. I've made up names for them:
Adolf, Frog and Mother. My best friends."
There was a moment of silence. Cawthorn shuffled his notes and
Jack studied the ceiling and formulated his next question. Kay
beat him to it: "Who are they? I mean . . . where do they
Tim smiled again, as if he welcomed the query. "Hell,"
he said. "That's where they live."
"By Adolf," Jack said, measuring his words, "I
presume you mean Hitler? Is that right?"
"I call him that, but that's not who he is. He's a lot
older. But he took me to a place once, where there were walls and
barbed wire and bodies were getting thrown into furnaces. You
could smell the skin cook, like barbecue on the Fourth of
July." He closed his eyes behind the round-lensed glasses.
"I got a guided tour, see. There were Nazi soldiers all over
the place, just like in the old pictures, and there were chimneys
spouting brown smoke that smelled like hair on fire. A sweet
smell. And there were people playing violins, and other people
digging graves. Adolf speaks German. That's why I call him
Jack looked at one of the photographs. It showed bloody swastikas
on the wall over the disemboweled torso of a little girl. He felt
as if he were sweating on the inside of his skin, the outer
surface cold and clammy. Somehow—without any weapons or
implements that the police could identify—the boy sitting
at the far end of the table had ripped his parents and sister to
pieces. Just torn them apart and thrown the pieces against the
walls in an orgy of violence, then marked the walls with HAIL
SATAN, swastikas, weirdly animalistic faces and obscenities in a
dozen languages, all in fresh blood and inner matter. But what
had he used to pull them apart? Surely human hands weren't
capable of such strength, and on the corpses were deep bite marks
and evidence of claws at work. Eyes had been gouged out, teeth
had been knocked from gaping mouths, ears and noses had been
It was the worst case of pure savagery he'd ever seen. But what
kept knocking against the walls of his mind were those scrawled
obscenities—in German, Danish, Italian, French, Greek,
Spanish and six more languages including Arabic. According to the
boy's school records, he'd made a low 'C' in Latin. That was it.
So where had those languages come from? "Who taught you
Greek, Tim?" Jack asked.
The boy's eyes opened. "I don't know Greek. Frog does."
"Frog. Okay. Tell me about Frog."
"He's . . . ugly. Like a frog. He likes to jump, too."
Tim leaned forward slightly, as if confiding a secret, and though
he sat more than six feet away, Kay found herself recoiling three
or four inches. "Frog's very smart. Probably the smartest
one. And Frog's been everywhere. All around the world.
He knows every language you can think of, and probably some you
don't even know." He sat back, smiling proudly. "Frog's
Jack eased a Flair pen from his shirt pocket and wrote ADOLF and
FROG at the top of the police statement, connecting them to the
word 'they' with an arrow. He could feel the boy watching him.
"How'd you meet your friends, Tim?"
"I called them. They came."
"Called them? How?"
"From the books. The spell books."
Jack nodded thoughtfully. The 'spell books' were a collection of
paperback volumes on demonology the police had found on a shelf
in Tim's room. They were tattered old things the boy said he'd
bought at flea markets and garage sales, the newest one
copyrighted in the '70s. They were by no means 'forbidden'
literature, just probably the kind of books that had sat in
drugstore racks and been spun round a thousand times. "So
Adolf and Frog are demons, is that right?"
"That's one name for them, I guess. There are others."
"Can you tell us exactly when you first called them?"
"Sure. Maybe two years ago. More or less. I wasn't very good
at it at first. They won't come unless you really want them, and
you've got to follow the directions right to the letter. If
you're a hair off, nothing happens. I guess I went through it a
hundred times before Mother came. She was the first one."
"She?" Jack asked. "Adolf and Frog are male, but
Mother is female?"
"Yeah. She's got jugs." Tim's eyes darted to Kay, back
to Jack again. "Mother knows everything. She taught me all
about sex." Another furtive glance at Kay. "Like how a
girl dresses when she wants to get raped. Mother says they all
want it. She took me places, and showed me things. Like one place
where this fat guy brought boys home, and after he was through
with them he set them free because they were all used up, and
then he put them in garbage bags and buried them in his basement
like pirate treasure."
"Set them free?" Jack repeated; his mouth had gotten
very dry. "You mean . . ."
"Set them free from their bodies. With a butcher knife. So
their souls could go to Hell." He looked at Kay, who could
not restrain an inner shudder. She cursed Bob Foster right down
to his shoelaces.
Hallucinations, Jack jotted down. Then: Fixation on Demonology
and Hell. Why? "You said a little while ago, when Dr.
Cawthorn asked you how you were feeling, you felt 'almost free'.
Could you explain that to me?"
"Yeah. Almost free. Part of my soul's already in Hell. I
gave it up on the night when . . . you know. It was a test.
Everybody gets tested. I passed that one. I've got one
more— kind of like an entrance exam, I guess."
"Then all your soul will be in Hell?"
"Right. See, people have the wrong idea about Hell. It's not
what people think. It's ... a homey kind of place. Not a whole
lot different from here. Except it's safer, and you get
protected. I've visited there, and I've met Satan. He was wearing
a letter jacket, and he said he wanted to help me learn how to
play football, and he said he'd always pick me first when it came
to choosing up teams. He said he'd be . . . like a big brother,
and all I had to do was love him." He blinked behind his
glasses. "Love is too hard here. It's easier to love in
Hell, because nobody yells at you and you don't have to be
perfect. Hell is a place without walls." He began to rock
himself again, and the straitjacket's fabric made a shrieking
sound. "It kills me, all this stuff about rock and roll
being Satan's music. He likes Beethoven, listens to it over and
over on a big ghetto blaster. And he's got the kindest eyes you
ever saw, and the sweetest voice. Know what he says? That he
feels so sorry for new life born into this world, because life is
suffering and it's the babies who have to pay for their parents'
sins." His rocking was getting more violent. "It's the
babies who need to be freed most of all. Who need love and
protection, and he'll wrap them in swaddling letter jackets and
hum Beethoven to them and they won't have to cry any more."
"Tim?" Cawthorn was getting alarmed at the boy's
motion. "Settle down, now. There's no need to—"
"YOU WON'T CAGE ME!" Tim shouted, and his pale face
with its encrustment of acne flooded crimson. Veins were beating
at both temples. Kay had almost leaped from her skin, and now she
grasped the edge of the table with white fingers. "Won't
cage me, no sir! Dad tried to cage me! He was scared shitless!
Said he was going to bum my books and get me thinking right
again! Won't cage me! Won't cage me, no sir!" He thrashed
against the straitjacket, a sheen of sweat gleaming on his face.
Cawthorn stood up, started for the door to call in Gil and Bobby.
"Wait!" the boy shouted: a command, full-voiced and
Cawthorn stopped with his hand on the tarnished knob. "Wait.
Please. Okay?" Tim had ceased struggling. His glasses were
hanging from one ear, and with a quick jerk of his head he flung
them off. They skidded along the table and almost into Kay's lap.
"Wait. I'm all right now. Just got a little crazy. See, I
won't be caged. I can't be. Not when part of my soul's already in
Hell." He smiled slickly and wet his lips with his tongue.
"It's time for my entrance exam. That's why they let you
bring me here ... so they could come too."
"Who, Tim?" Jack felt the hairs creeping at the back of
his neck. "Who let us bring you here?"
"My best friends. Frog, Adolf, and Mother. They're here too.
"Right where?" Kay asked.
"I'll show you. Frog says he likes your hair, too. Says he'd
like to feel it." The boy's head wobbled, the veins sticking
out in his neck and throbbing to a savage rhythm. "I'll show
you my best friends. Okay?"
Kay didn't answer. At the door, Cawthorn stood motionless. Jack
sat still, the pen clamped in his hand.
A drop of blood coursed slowly from the comer of Tim's left eye.
It was bright red, and streaked scarlet down his cheek, past his
lip to his chin.
Tim's left eyeball had begun to bulge from its socket.
"Here they come," he whispered, in a strangled voice.
"Ready or not."
"He's hemorrhaging!" Jack stood up so fast his chair
crashed over. "Eric, call the emergency room!"
Cawthorn ran out to get to the telephone at Bobby Crisp's desk.
Jack crossed the room to the boy's side, saw Tim hitching as if
he couldn't draw a breath. Two more lines of blood oozed from
around the left eye, which was being forced out of its socket by
a tremendous inner pressure. The boy gasped, made a hoarse
moaning sound, and Jack struggled to loosen the straitjacket's
straps but the body began to writhe and jerk with such force that
he couldn't find the buckles.
Kay was on her feet, and Jack said, "Help me get this off
him!" but she hesitated; the images of the mangled corpses
in those photographs were still too fresh. At that moment Gil
Moon came in, saw what was happening and tried to hold the boy
from thrashing. Jack got one of the heavy straps undone, and now
blood was dripping from around the boy's eye and running out his
nostrils, his mouth strained open in a soundless cry of agony.
Tim's tongue protruded from his mouth. It rotated around, and
Tim's body shuddered so fiercely even Gil's burly hands couldn't
keep him still. Jack's fingers pulled at the second
buckle—and suddenly the boy's left eye shot from its socket
in a spray of gore and flew across the room. It hit the wall and
drooled down like a broken egg, and Kay's knees almost folded.
"Hold him! Hold him!" Jack shouted. The boy's face
rippled, and there came the sound of facial bones popping and
cracking like the timbers of an old house giving way. His cranium
bulged, his forehead swelling as if threatening explosion.
Cawthorn and Bobby returned to the room. The doctor's face was
bleached white, and Bobby pushed Jack aside to get at the last
"Emergency's on the way up!" Cawthorn croaked. "My
God ... my God . . . what's happening to him?"
Jack shook his head. He realized he had some of Tim Clausen's
blood on his shirt, and the dark socket of the boy's ruined eye
looked as if it went right down into the wet depths of the brain.
The other eye seemed to be fixed on him—a cold, knowing
stare. Jack stepped back to give Gil and Bobby room to work.
The boy's tongue emerged another inch, seemed to be questing in
the air. And then, as the tongue continued to strain from the
mouth, there was a sound of flesh tearing loose. The tongue
emerged two more inches—and its color was a mottled
greenish-gray, covered with sharp glass-like spikes.
The attendants recoiled. Tim's body shuddered, the single eye
staring. The head and face were changing shape, as if being
hammered from within.
"Oh . . . Jesus," Bobby whispered, retreating.
Something writhed behind Tim Clausen's swollen forehead. The
spiky tongue continued to slide out, inch after awful inch, and
twined itself around the boy's neck. His face was gray, smeared
with blood at nostrils and lips and empty eyehole. His temples
pulsed and bulged, and the left side of his face shifted with a
firecracker noise of popping bones. A thread of scarlet zigzagged
across his pressured skull; the fissure widened, wetly, and part
of his cranium began to lift up like a trap door being forced
Kay made a choking sound. Cawthorn's back thumped against the
Dazed and horrified. Jack saw a scuttling in the dark hole where
the left eye had been. The hole stretched wider, with a splitting
of tissues, and from it reached a gnarled gray hand about the
size of an infant's, except it had three fingers and three sharp
silver talons and was attached to a leathery arm that rippled
with hard piano-wire muscles.
The boy's mouth had been forced open so far the jaws were about
to break. From the mouth emerged spike-covered buttocks,
following its attached tail that had once been—or had
appeared to be—a human tongue. A little mottled gray-green
thing with spiky skin and short piston-like legs was backing out
of Tim Clausen's mouth, fighting free from the bloody lips as
surely as new birth. And now the creature on the end of that
muscular little arm was pushing itself out too, through the
grotesque cavity that used to be Tim Clausen's eyesocket, and
Jack was face-to-face with a scaly bald head the size of a man's
fist and the color of spoiled meat. Its other arm appeared, and
now a thorny pair of shoulders, the body pushing with fierce
energy and its flat bulldog nostrils flared and spouting spray.
Its slanted Chinese eyes were topaz, beautiful and deadly.
Gil was jabbering, making noise but no sense. The bald head
racheted toward him, and as its mouth grinned with eager
anticipation—like a kid presented with a roomful of pizzas,
Jack thought crazily—the close-packed teeth glinted like
And something began to crawl from the top of the boy's skull that
almost stopped Jack's laboring heart. Kay felt a scream pressing
at her throat, but it would not come out. A spidery thing,
gleaming and iridescent, its six-legged form all sinews and
angles, pushed its way from the skull's gaping trapdoor. Mounted
on a four-inch stalk of tough tissue was a head framed with a
metallic mass of what might have been hair, except it was made of
tangled concertina wire, honed to skin-slicing sharpness. The
face was ivory—a woman's face, the visage of a
blood-drained beauty. Beneath silver brows her eyes were white,
and as they gazed upon Jack and the body struggled out the
creature's pale lips stretched into a smile and showed fangs of
Cawthorn broke, began laughing and wailing as he slid down to the
floor. Out in the corridor, the buzzer shrilled; the emergency
staff had arrived, but there was no one to unlock the door on
The squatty spike-covered beast was almost out of the boy's
mouth. It pulled free, its webbed feet clenching to Tim's face,
and swiveled its acorn-shaped head around. The eyes were black
and owlish, its face cracked and wrinkled and covered with
suppurating sores that might have been Hell's version of acne.
Its mouth was a red-rimmed cup, like the suctioning mouth of a
leech. The eyes blinked rapidly, a transparent film dropping
across them and then lifting as it regarded the humans in the
Tim Clausen's head had begun to collapse like a punctured
balloon. The bald-headed, muscular thing—Adolf, Jack
realized—wrenched its hips loose from the eyesocket; its
chest was plated with overlapping scales, and at its groin was a
straining red penis and a knotty sac of testicles that pulsed
like a bag of hearts. As the creature's leg came free, Tim's
mouth released a hiss of air that smelled of blood and brains and
decayed matter—an odor of fungus and mold—and in the
scabrous sound there might have been a barely-human whisper:
The boy's face imploded, features running together like wet wax.
The spidery metal-haired demon—Mother, Jack knew it could
only be—scrabbled onto the boy's shoulder and perched there
as Tim's head turned dark as a wart and caved in. What remained
of the head—flaccid and rubbery—fell back over the
shoulder and hung there like a cape's hood, and whatever Tim
Clausen had been was gone.
But the three demons remained.
They were holding him together, Jack thought as he staggered
back. He bumped into Kay, and she grasped his arm with panicked
strength. After they killed the boy's parents and sister, Jack
realized, they were hiding inside him and holding him together
like plaster and wire in a mannequin. Shock settled over him,
freighting him down. His mind seized like rusted cogs. He heard
the insistent call of the buzzer, the emergency crew wanting to
get in, and he feared his legs had gone dead. My best friends,
the boy had said. I called them. They came.
And here they were. Ready or not.
They were neither hallucinations nor the result of psychotic
trance. There was no time to debate the powers of God or the
Devil, or whether Hell was a territory or a termite in the house
of reason: the demon Tim had named Adolf leaped nimbly through
the air at Gil Moon and gripped the man's face with those
three-fingered silver claws. Gil bellowed in terror and fell to
his knees; the demon's claws were a blur of motion, like a happy
machine at work, and as Gil shuddered and screamed and tried to
fight the thing off the demon ripped his face away from the
skeletal muscles like a flimsy mask. Blood spattered through the
air, marking the walls with the same patterns as at the Clausen
house. Adolf locked his sinewy legs around Gil Moon's throat, the
three toes of the demon's bare feet curling and uncurling with
merry passion, and Adolf began to eat the man's shredded face.
Gil's bony jaws chattered and moaned, and the demon made greedy
grunting noises like a pig burrowing in slop.
Bobby Crisp ran, releasing a shriek that shook the windows. He
did not stop to open the door, but almost knocked it off its
hinges as he fled into the hallway. Jack gripped Kay's hand,
pulling her with him toward the door. Mother's ashen, lustful
face followed him; he saw her tongue flicker from the pale-lipped
mouth—a black, spear-tipped piece of pseudo-flesh that
quivered in the air with a low humming sound. He could feel the
tone vibrate in his testicles, and the tingling sensation slowed
him a half-step. Kay's scream let go, with a force that rattled
her bones; once uncapped, the scream would not stop and kept
spilling from her throat. A form leaped at her head. She ducked,
lifting an arm to ward it off. The creature Tim had called Frog
hopped over her shoulder, its spiky tail tearing cloth from her
jacket just above the elbow. A whiplash of pain jarred her scream
to a halt and cleared her head, and then Frog had landed on Dr.
Cawthorn's scalp. "Don't leave me ... don't leave me,"
he was babbling, and Jack stopped before he reached the
doorway—but in the next instant it was obvious that help
was much too late.
Frog leaned forward and attached that gaping leech-mouth to
Cawthorn's forehead. The creature's cheeks swelled to twice their
size, its tail snaking around and around Cawthorn's throat.
Cawthorn gave a gutteral cry of pain, and his head exploded like
a tire pumped beyond its limits, brains streaking the walls. Frog
squatted on the broken skull, its cheeks becoming concave as it
sucked at flowing juices.
Jack pulled Kay out of the room. Up ahead, Bobby Crisp was racing
toward the locked security door, shouting for help. He tripped
over his own gangly legs and fell heavily to the floor, scrambled
up again and limped frantically onward. Now there was a pounding
on the other side of the door, and Jack could see faces through
the glass inset. Bobby was searching wildly through his ring of
keys as Jack and Kay reached him. He tried to force one into the
lock, but it wouldn't go. The second key he chose slid in but
balked at turning. "Hurry!" Jack urged, and he dared to
look over his shoulder.
Mother was scuttling along the hallway toward them, moving about
as fast as a prowling cat. Her mouth opened, and she made a
piercing shriek like claws scraped across a blackboard. As if in
response to her alarm, Frog bounded out of the conference room,
its ancient and wrinkled face smeared with Cawthorn's brains.
"Open it!" Jack shouted, and Bobby tried a third key
but his hand was shaking so badly he couldn't get it into the
lock. It was too large, and would not fit. It dawned on Jack with
terrifying force that if Gil had been on door duty, the proper
key would still be on the dead man's ring, and Bobby might not
have one. He glanced back again, saw Mother about twenty feet
away and Frog leaping past her. Adolf strode from the conference
room like a two-foot-tall commingling of gnarled man and dragon.
"Lord Jesus!" Bobby Crisp said as the fourth key
engaged the tumblers and turned in the lock. He wrenched the door
open—and Frog landed on his shoulder, sharp little talons
in the webbed feet digging through his shirt.
He screamed, thrashing at the demon. Jack could smell the reek of
Frog's flesh: a musty, cooked-meat odor. Through the open door,
two white-uniformed men from the emergency room stood wide-eyed
and astonished, a gurney table between them. Rosalee had seen,
and so had Mrs. Stewart, and both of them were too stunned to
Jack grasped Frog with both hands. It was like touching a live
coal, and the spiky tail whipped at him as he tore Frog off
Bobby's back. Most of the attendant's shirt and hunks of skin
ripped away. Jack's hands were pierced by the spikes on the
thing's body, and he threw the demon with all his strength
against the opposite wall. It folded into a ball an instant
before it hit, its head retracting into its body; it made a wet
splatting sound, fell to the floor and immediately reformed
itself, poising for another leap.
But Bobby was out the door and so was Kay, and Jack lunged
through and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving bloody
handprints against the white. There was the wham! of impact as
Frog hit the door on the other side. "Lock it! Lock
it!" Jack shouted, and Rosalee got her key in and twisted
it. The lock shot home, and the door was secured.
Bobby kept running, almost colliding with Mrs. Marion and Dave
Chambers. "What's your hurry?" Dave called. Bobby
reached the elevator, which the emergency staffers had left open,
got in and punched a button. The doors closed and took him down.
"Doris!" Rosalee hollered to Mrs. Marion. "Bring
some bandages! Quick!" She grasped Jack's wrists and looked
at his palms. There were four or five puncture wounds on each
hand, and much of the skin had been scorched raw. The worst of
the pain was just now hitting him, and he squeezed his eyes shut
and shuddered. "They got Cawthorn and Gil Moon. Tore them
up. Three of them. They came out of the boy. Out of the boy's
head. Tore them to pieces, just like the boy's family . .
."A wave of dizziness almost overcame him, and Rosalee
clamped her husky arms around him as his knees crumpled.
"What . . . what was it?" Mrs. Stewart had seen the
beast with the eyes of an owl and the body of a frog, but her
mind had sheared away from the sight. She blinked, found herself
watching drops of blood fall from the fingers of the red-haired
woman's right hand and spatter to the floor. "Oh," she
said, dazed. "Oh dear . . . you're hurt . . ."
Kay looked at her hand, realizing only then that Frog's tail had
cleaved a furrow across her arm. The pain was bad, but not
unbearable. Not considering what might have happened. The image
of Cawthorn's exploding head came to her, and she allowed the
fretting nurse to guide her along the corridor to a chair without
really knowing where she was going or why. One of the emergency
staffers broke open a medical kit and started examining Kay's
wound, asking her questions about what had happened; she didn't
even hear them. The other man swabbed disinfectant on Jack's
hands—which sent new pain through him that almost curled
his hair—and then helped Rosalee bind them in the bandages
Mrs. Marion had brought.
Something crashed against the door. It shivered from the blow.
"Docky?" Margie was standing next to him, her face
pallid and her eyes darting with fear. "Docky . . . what's
Another blow against the door. The floor trembled.
"God Almighty!" the man who'd helped bandage Jack's
hands said. "That felt like a sledge hammer!"
"Stay away from the door!" Jack warned.
"Everybody! Stay away from it! Rosalee . . . listen . . .
we've got to get the patients off the ward! Get them
There was a third impact against the door. The glass inset
"I told you, didn't I?" Dave Chambers stood in the
center of the corridor, calmly smoking a cigarette, his eyes
narrowed. "Told you not to go in there. Now look what you've
"Hush!" Rosalee snapped at him—and then Mrs.
Marion screamed, because the rest of the door's glass inset was
smashed out and a small gray claw with three silver talons
stretched through, swiping savagely at the air. "Oh . . .
Lordy," Rosalee breathed.
Jack watched, helplessly, while Adolf's arm, shoulder and head
squeezed through the opening. Margie made a croaking noise. The
cigarette dropped from Dave's fingers. The demon struggled to get
its hips free, then leaped to the floor and stood there grinning,
its baleful topaz eyes full of greedy expectation.
And now Mother was pulling herself through the opening, inch by
awful inch, her barbed-wire hair gleaming under the fluorescents.
They're going to kill us all, Jack thought; it was a surprisingly
calm realization, as if his mind had been pushed to its limit and
would accept no more panic. Everyone on the floor was going to
die—and then, most probably, the things would start with
the patients on the next floor down as well.
It dawned on him that if a hospital was indeed a universe all its
own, then this one had just been claimed for destruction.
Mother got her head through, and the spider's body plopped to the
floor beside Adolf.
Kay moved: not running wildly along the corridor, as was her
first impulse, because with the elevator gone and the stairwell
door surely locked the corridor was just one long dead end. She
leaped out of her chair, past the nurse and two emergency
staffers to the gurney table; she simply did it because she saw
it had to be done, and she'd come to the same recognition of doom
as Jack had. "No!" she said, and shoved the gurney
forward. Its wheels squeaked as it hurtled toward Mother and
But they were much too fast to be caught by those wheels. Mother
scuttled to one side and Adolf sprang to the other, and now Frog
was squeezing through the inset like a blob of jelly from a tube.
The gurney slammed into the door and bounced off.
Adolf made a grating-glass noise that might have been a cackle.
There were no screams, just a long swelling of breath that caught
and hung. "Move everyone back," Jack said to Rosalee.
She didn't budge. "Get them down the stairs!" he
demanded, and finally she made a choked sound of agreement,
grasped Margie's arm and began to retreat along the corridor. The
others followed, not daring to turn their backs on the creatures.
Dave Chambers just stood gaping for a moment, then he too began a
Frog thrashed in the door's inset, its front legs clawing. The
bastard's stuck! Jack realized, but it was little consolation.
Mother took a slithery step forward, and Adolf clambered up onto
the gurney and squatted there as if in contemplation.
Jack knew there were no weapons on the eighth floor: no knives,
no bludgeons, certainly no guns. The most dangerous item up here
was probably a toilet plunger, and he doubted that would do much
harm to Tim Clausen's best friends. Frog was still trying to get
its bulbous buttocks through the opening, Mother was advancing
steadily but with caution, and Adolf's eyes ticked back and forth
with murderous intent.
"Help us! Please help us!" someone shouted. Jack saw
Mrs. Stewart at the nurse's station, the telephone in her hand.
"We're on eight! For God's sake, send somebody to
Adolf's muscular legs uncoiled, and the demon jumped over Jack
and Kay, hit the floor running and had scampered up onto the
nurse's desk before Mrs. Stewart could finish her plea. With one
swipe of a claw, Adolf opened the woman's throat. Her vocal
chords rattled, and the phone fell from her twitching fingers.
Adolf clung to the front of her uniform as Mrs. Stewart writhed
in agony, and his razorblade teeth went to work on the ravaged
"GET OFF HER, YOU SHIT!" Rosalee hollered, and whacked
Adolf with a broom she'd plucked from a corner. The broom did no
damage even though it was swung with a mighty vengeance, but
Adolf ceased his chewing and regarded her as if admiring a new
steak. Mrs. Stewart crumpled, strangling, and Adolf leaped to the
"Jack! Look out!" Kay cried; he whirled around as
Mother scuttled toward his legs, and without thinking about it he
kicked the thing as if going for a field goal. The demon gave a
moist grunt and rolled like a tumbleweed against the wall, then
immediately righted herself and came at him again. Jack
retreated, but the demon was coming on too fast and he saw the
wicked glitter of her diamond teeth. She was almost upon him,
about to scurry up his left leg.
A chair flew past him, nearly clipping his shoulder, and crashed
into Mother. She shrieked, a noise like air escaping a hole in a
balloon. Some of her legs were already struggling to shove the
chair off and the others pulling her out of Jack's range before
he could deliver another kick. Two legs quivered and slid
uselessly along the floor, leaving a smear of brown fluid.
"I busted it!" Dave Chambers shouted. "Knocked the
shit out of it, didn't I? Doc, move your ass!"
Rosalee swung the broom at Adolf again. The demon caught it, and
for a few seconds they pulled it back and forth between them,
until Rosalee yanked at it and Adolf let go. She squalled and
staggered, falling with a jolt that shook the floor. Adolf tensed
to leap upon her.
But the elevator suddenly opened, and a stout middle-aged man in
the brown uniform of a security guard stepped off. He wore a
badge and holster with a .38 revolver in it, and he stopped dead
in his tracks as the demon's head swiveled toward him.
The guard gasped, "What in the name of everlovin' Jesus
Adolf jumped. Cleared Rosalee, who screamed and scurried away on
her hands and knees, and plunged his claws into the man's chest.
The talons ripped through the shirt, and the demon flailed at the
man like a living chainsaw. Most of his chest was a wet, gaping
cavity within the seven or eight seconds it took for Adolf to
finish with him, and the guard toppled forward onto his face. His
legs remained inside the elevator, and the doors kept thumping
against them, opening and trying to close again.
Adolf perched on the dead man's back, licking his talons. His
gaze found Rosalee, who had crawled about ten feet away, and she
knew she was next.
"Hey, freak!" Dave bellowed. He had another chair, was
thrusting it at Adolf like a lion tamer. The demon's eyes fixed
on him, and a terrible grin flickered across its mouth.
"Come on, prick!" He stepped between Adolf and Rosalee,
a sheen of sweat shining on his face; his own smile was maniacal.
"Rosalee, you'd best get off your butt now. Best get those
people down the stairs." His voice was calm: the voice of
someone who has chosen suicide. "Doc, you and the lady haul
your asses and get off the ward!"
Rosalee stood up. Adolf hissed at her, and Dave feinted with the
chair to get the thing's attention again. Jack and Kay moved past
him, as Mother slowly advanced along the corridor, dragging her
broken legs. "I know you, don't I?" Dave asked the male
demon. "Sure I do. I've seen you at night, when I try to
sleep. Oh,.you're a sly little bastard, aren't you? You get in my
head when I'm dreamin', and you make me crazy. That's why I'm
here—because of you."
Adolf swiped at the chair, left three furrows across one of the
"You want to jump, huh? Want to get those hands on ol'
Dave's neck? Except you know I won't go lightly. I'll knock your
eyeballs out, friend." Dave glanced quickly to his right;
about twenty feet away, Rosalee had slipped her key into the
stairwell's door and was unlocking it. "Hurry!" he
said, then cut his gaze down the other direction. The spider with
the marble-white face of a woman and barbed-wire hair was
creeping inexorably up on him. The third demon was still
struggling to get free of the door, and was just about to pop its
Adolf sprang forward. Dave planted his legs and swung the chair.
But Adolf drew back at the last second, and the chair's legs hit
"Maybe I can't kill you," Dave said, "but I'll
break your bones—or whatever's holdin' you together. Maybe
that makes you think a little bit, huh?"
Rosalee was getting the patients, the two emergency staffers and
Mrs. Marion through the door into the stairwell. Jack hesitated,
watching Dave as Mother slowly advanced on him. "Dave!"
he shouted. "We'll keep the door open for you! Come
Dave laughed harshly. "You're nuttier'n a Christmas
fruitcake, Doc," he answered. "You want these things
runnin' all through the hospital? Man, I'm not even that crazy!
You get through that door and make sure it's locked."
Kay gripped Jack's arm. Everyone had gone down the stairwell
except her and Rosalee. She pulled at him. "We've got to get
downstairs ... got to call the police ..." Her eyelids were
fluttering, and Jack recognized that deep shock was finally
settling in. He wanted to go, because in all his life no one had
ever accused him of being a hero—but the sight of a mental
patient wielding a chair against two demons from Hell would not
let him descend the stairs. It would be easy to give up Dave
Chambers; what was the measure of the man's life, anyway? But
Jack could not leave him alone up here, though his brain screamed
for escape and he knew Dave was a heartbeat away from being torn
to shreds. After they finished with Dave, they would find a way
down to the next floor where they could go from room to room. If
they were going to be stopped, it had to be here and now.
"Take her," Jack said to Rosalee. "Lock the door
"No! Dr. Shannon, you can't—"
"Do what I said." His voice cracked, and he felt his
courage leaking out. "If they get off this floor ..."
He let the thought remain unspoken.
Rosalee hesitated—but only for a few seconds, because she
saw his mind was made up. She said, "Come on, miss. Lean on
me, now." She helped Kay down the stairs, and then the door
swung shut in Jack's face. Rosalee turned her key on the other
side, and the lock engaged with a small click of finality.
"Doc, you're crazy!" Dave yelled. "You should've
been up here in a rubber room with us nuts a long time a—''
Adolf jumped at Dave's legs. The man backpedalled and swung the
chair; it struck the demon's shoulder and knocked the thing
sprawling against the wall. Mother was almost at Dave's feet, and
Jack saw Frog suddenly heave loose from the door's inset and fall
to the floor. Frog started bounding toward Dave, covering three
or four feet at a leap. Dave saw it coming too, and he wheeled
toward Frog to ward the beast off.
"Look out!" Jack warned, but he knew he was too late.
Adolf had already leapt at the man, was scrabbling up Dave's leg.
Mother pounced like a cat upon Dave's ankle, and the diamond
fangs ripped through his white sock. It turned crimson. Dave
whacked at Mother with the chair, missed, was off-balance and
falling as Adolf plunged his claws into the man's chest and
opened him up from breastbone to navel. Dave's stricken face
turned toward Jack, and Jack heard him gasp: "The gun."
Then Dave hit the floor, with Adolf pinned and struggling beneath
him, and a tide of blood streamed across the linoleum.
The gun, Jack realized. The gun in the security guard's holster.
He didn't remember taking the first step. But he was running
toward the elevator, where the guard lay dead, and it occurred to
him that his ravaged hands might not be able to hold the gun, or
that it might be unloaded, or that he might not be able to pull
it from the holster in time. All those things whirled through his
mind, but he knew that without the gun he was meat to be devoured
by Tim Clausen's best friends.
Tail lashing, Frog bounded from the floor at him before he could
reach the elevator. He ducked, slipped in Dave Chambers's blood
and fell as Frog leaped over his head. The end of the beast's
tail slashed his left ear, and then he was skidding across the
floor on his chest and bumped against the guard's corpse. He saw
Adolf pulling his legs from underneath Dave, saw the demon's eyes
widen with realization. Jack got one hand around the revolver's
butt, popped the holster open with the other and drew the gun
loose. The safety! he thought, and spent precious seconds
fumbling to release the catch.
And then Mother was right in his face, the mouth opening with a
hiss and the fangs straining. Her legs clutched at his shoulder,
a breath of corruption washing at his nostrils. The fangs
glittered, about to strike.
He pressed the revolver's barrel against her forehead and forced
his index finger to squeeze the trigger.
Just an empty click.
Adolf cackled, wrenching his legs free and standing up.
Frog was bounding back along the corridor.
And Jack pulled the trigger again.
This time it fell on a loaded cylinder. The gun went off, almost
jumping out of Jack's grip.
A hole in Mother's forehead sprayed brown fluid. Her grin turned
to a rictus of what might have been agony, and she scurried
backward. Adolf's cackle stopped cold.
Jack fired again. A piece of Mother's head flew off, and she was
shrieking and dragging herself around in a mad circle. Frog
leaped, landed on the side of Jack's neck with a wet grunt. He
pressed the gun into its gelatinous, meaty-smelling body and
shot—once, twice. Frog split open, oozing nastiness, and
slithered away from him.
Jack tried to take aim at Mother again, but she was running like
a wind-up toy gone berserk. A scrape of metal drew his attention.
He looked at the opposite wall: Adolf was frantically pulling at
a small metal grill. The vent! Jack thought, and his heart
stuttered. If that bastard got into the vent . . . !
He fired at Adolf's back. At the same instant the .38 went off,
Adolf wrenched the grill open. His left arm disappeared at the
elbow in a mangle of tissue and fluid, and Adolf's body was
slammed against the wall. The demon's head turned toward Jack,
eyes ablaze with hatred. Jack pulled the trigger once
more—and hit the empty cylinder again. The bullets were
Adolf flung himself headfirst into the vent. Jack shouted
"NO!" and scrambled across the dead guard, over the
bloody floor to the vent; he shoved his arm in, his hand seeking.
In the tube there was a scuttling, drawing away and down. Then
silence but for the rattle of Jack's lungs.
He lay on his stomach, not far from the corpse of Dave Chambers.
The ward smelled like a slaughterhouse. He wanted to rest, just
curl his body up and let his mind coast down a long road into
darkness—but Adolf was still in the hospital, probably
following the vent's pipe to the lower floors, and he could
decide to come out anywhere. Jack lay shivering, trying to think.
Something Tim Clausen had said . . . something about ...
He feels so sorry for new life born into this world, the boy had
said. It's the babies who need to be freed most of all.
And Jack knew why Tim's best friends had allowed him to be
brought to the hospital.
All hospitals have a maternity ward.
There was a soft hiss beside his left ear.
Mother crouched there on trembling legs, part of her head blasted
away and her face dripping brown ichor. Her tongue flicked out,
quivering toward Jack, her eyes lazy and heavy-lidded. They were
sated, hideous, knowing eyes; they understood things that, once
set free, would gnaw through the meat and bone of this world and
spit out the remains like gristle on barbarian platters. They
were things that might rave between the walls of Jack's mind for
the rest of his life, but right now he must shove away the
madness before it engulfed him; he knew—and was sure Mother
did, too—that Adolf was scrambling down through the vent
toward the second floor, where the babies were. Mother leered at
him, her duty done.
Jack got his hand around the .38's barrel and smashed the butt
into her face. The wet, obscene skin split with a noise like
rotten cloth. Barbed wire cut through Jack's bandaged fingers,
and he lifted the gun and struck again. Mother retreated only a
few paces before her legs gave out. Her eyes collapsed inward
like cigarette bums. The mouth made a mewling noise, the diamond
fangs snapping together. Jack lifted the gun and brought it down,
heedless of the barbed-wire hair. Mother's head broke like a
blister, and out of that cavity rose an oily mist that swirled up
toward the ceiling and clung there, seething like a concentration
of wasps. It bled through the ceiling tiles, leaving a stain as
dark as nicotine and then it—whatever it had been—had
Mother's body lay like a rag. Jack pushed it aside and crawled to
the elevator. The doors were still thumping impatiently against
the guard's legs. Jack struggled to slide the corpse out, aware
that each passing second took Adolf closer to the maternity ward.
He got the legs out of the elevator, caught the doors before they
closed and heaved himself inside, reaching up to hit the 2
The doors slid shut, and the elevator descended.
Jack stood up. His legs immediately gave way again, and he fell
to his knees. The front of his shirt was reddened by gore, the
bandages hanging from his bloody hands. Black motes spun before
his eyes, and he knew he didn't have much time before his body
surrendered. The old gears and cables creaked, and the elevator
jarred to a halt. Jack looked up at the illuminated numbers over
the door; the number 5 was lit up. The doors opened, and a
gray-haired doctor in a white lab coat took one step in before he
saw Jack on the floor and froze.
"Get out," Jack rasped.
The doctor hesitated perhaps three seconds, then retreated so
abruptly he hit an orderly in the hallway and knocked over a cart
of medicines and sterilized instruments. Jack pressed the 2
button once more, and the doors closed. He watched the numbers
change. As the elevator passed the third floor, Jack thought how
sensible it would be to stay here all the way down to the lobby
and scream for help once he got there. That was the thing to do,
because he had no gun, no weapon, nothing to stop Adolf with. He
was bloody and balanced on the edge of shock, and he knew he
must've scared the doctor half to death. A grim smile lifted the
corners of his mouth, because he knew there was no time to get to
the lobby; by then, Adolf might have reached the maternity ward,
and the thing's remaining claw would be at work amid the new
flesh. Already there might be a pile of infant limbs scattered on
the floor, and each second ended another life. No time . . . no
Jack struggled to his feet. Watched the number 2 light up. The
elevator halted, and the doors opened with a sigh.
There were no screams, no frantic activity on the second floor.
As Jack emerged from the elevator, the two nurses on duty at the
central station gaped up at him. One of them spilled a cup of
coffee, brown liquid surging across the desk. Jack had never been
to the maternity ward before, and corridors seemed to cut off in
every direction. "The babies," he said to one of the
nurses. "Where do you keep the babies?"
"Call security!" she told the other one, and the woman
picked up the telephone, pressed a button and said in a quavering
voice, "This is second floor. We need security up here,
"Listen to me." Jack knew Rosalee and the others must
be still trying to explain what had happened, and they wouldn't
understand where Adolf was headed. "Please listen. I'm Dr.
Jack Shannon. I've just come from the eighth floor. You've got to
get the babies out of here. I can't tell you why,
"Luther!" one of the nurses shouted.
"Luther!" The other woman had backed away, and Jack saw
they both thought he was out of his mind. "I'm not
crazy," he said, instantly regretting it; such a statement
only made things worse. The nurse who'd called for Luther said,
"Settle down, now. We're going to get somebody up here to
help you, okay?"
Jack looked around, trying to get his bearings. A waiting room
was on the left, people staring at him like frightened deer ready
to bolt. On the right a sign affixed to the wall read MATERNITY
and aimed an arrow down the corridor. Jack started along the
hallway, one of the nurses yelling at him to stop and the other
too scared to speak. He passed between rooms, leaving drops of
blood on the floor and startling nurses and patients who saw him
coming; they scattered out of his way, but one nurse grabbed his
shoulder and he shoved her aside and kept going. A signal bell
was going off, alerting security. He hoped these guards were
quicker on their feet than the one upstairs had been.
He rounded a comer, and there was the large floor-to-ceiling
plate-glass window where babies were displayed in their
perambulators, the boys bundled up in pale blue and the girls in
pink. Several friends and relatives of new parents were peering
in through the glass at the infants as the maternity nurse
continued her duties within. One of the visitors looked up at
Jack, and the woman's expression changed from delight to horror.
It took two more seconds for all of them to be aware of the
bloodied man who'd just lurched around the comer. Another of the
women screamed, and one of the men bulled forward to protect her.
Jack slammed his hand against the window. The nurse inside
jumped, her eyes stunned above her surgical mask. "Get them
out!" Jack shouted—but he knew she couldn't hear,
because some of the babies were obviously crying and he couldn't
hear those sounds, either. He tried again, louder:
"Get them out of—"
A pair of arms tightened around his chest from behind like a
living straitjacket. "Hold it, buddy. Just hang loose.
Guards are gonna be here right soon."
Luther, Jack thought. An orderly, and the size of a football
linebacker from the thickness of those arms. The man had lifted
him almost off the floor. "You and me gonna take a walk back
to the elevators. Excuse us, folks."
"No! Listen . . ." The pressure was about to squeeze
the breath out of him. Luther started dragging him along the
corridor, and thrashing was useless. Jack's heels scraped the
And there came another, higher scraping sound as well. Then the
double crack of screws being forced loose. Jack's spine crawled;
at the baseboard of the wall directly opposite the infant's
nursery was a vent grill, and it was being pushed open from the
Jack fought to get loose, but Luther hadn't seen and he clamped
his grip tighter. The blood roared in Jack's head.
The grill came open with a squeal of bending metal, and from the
vent leaped a small one-armed figure with burning topaz eyes.
Adolf's head turned toward the horrified knot of ward visitors,
then toward Jack and the orderly; the demon gave a grunt of
satisfaction, as if expecting that Jack would be there. Luther's
legs went rigid, but his grip didn't loosen from around Jack's
Adolf sprang at the plate glass.
It hit with a force that shook the window, and the glass starred
at the point of impact but did not shatter. Adolf fell back to
the floor, landing nimbly on his feet. The woman was still
screaming—a thin, piercing scream—but her protector's
nerve had failed. Behind the glass the maternity nurse had come
to the front of the room in an effort to shield the babies. Jack
knew she wouldn't last more than a few seconds when Adolf broke
through the window.
"Let me go, damn it!" he shouted, still struggling;
Luther's arms loosened, and Jack slid out of them to the floor.
Adolf shot a disdainful glance at him, like a human might look at
dogshit on the sole of a shoe. He jumped at the window again,
hitting it with his mangled shoulder. The glass cracked
diagonally, and at the center of the window a piece about the
size of a man's hand fell away. Adolf clawed at the hole, talons
scraping across the glass, but couldn't find a grip. The demon
rebounded to the floor again but was leaping almost as soon as
he'd landed. This time his claw caught the hole, and he kicked at
the glass to finish the job.
The corridor was full of screaming and the crying of babies. Jack
lunged forward and grabbed the demon's legs, and as he wrenched
Adolf out of the widening hole a large section of the window
crashed down, glass showering the nurse as she threw her body
across the first row of perambulators.
The demon twisted and writhed in Jack's grip with the agility of
a monkey. Jack slung Adolf against the wall, heard the crunch of
its skull against the plaster; it got one leg free, contorted its
body at the waist and the smashed head—half of it pulped
and leaking—came up at Jack's hand. The razorblade teeth
flashed before they snapped shut on Jack's index finger. Pain
shot up his forearm and into his shoulder, but he kept his hand
closed on the trapped leg. Adolf's teeth were at work, and
suddenly they met through the flesh; the demon's head jerked
backward, taking most of Jack's finger between the teeth.
Jack's hand spasmed with agony. The remaining four fingers opened
and Adolf leaped to the floor,
The demon staggered, and Jack fell against the wall with his
bitten and throbbing hand clutched to his chest. He hit an object
just behind him, as Adolf swiped at his legs with the remaining
claw and shredded the cuff of his trousers.
Then Adolf whirled toward the broken window once more, tried to
jump for the frame but the muscular legs had gone rubbery. The
demon reached up, grasped an edge of glass and began to clamber
over it into the nursery.
Jack looked at Luther. The man—crewcut and husky, his face
sallow and gutless—had backed almost to the corridor's
comer. The nurse with the surgical mask was still lying across
the first few infants, one arm outthrust to ward off Adolf's next
leap. Adolf was almost over the glass, would be in the nursery
within the following few seconds, and the thing was hurt but he
would not give up before he'd slaughtered his fill. His head
ticked toward Jack, and the oozing mouth stretched wide in a grin
There was something metal pressed into Jack's spine. Something
cylindrical. He turned, saw it was a fire extinguisher.
Adolf jumped from his perch on the edge of glass. Landed on the
nurse, and began to slash at her back with long strokes that cut
away her uniform and flayed off ribbons of flesh.
The fire extinguisher was in Jack's hands. His good index finger
yanked the primer ring. There was a hiss as the chemicals
combined, and the cylinder went cold. The nurse was screaming,
trying to fight Adolf off. She slipped to the floor, and Adolf
clung to the side of a perambulator, started drawing himself up
and into it with his claw, the razor teeth bared. He reached for
the pink-clad baby's skull.
"Here I am!" Jack yelled. "Ready or not!"
Adolf's misshapen head cocked toward Jack, teeth three
inches away from infant flesh.
Jack pulled the cylinder's trigger. Cold white foam erupted from
the nozzle, sprayed through the window in a narrow jet and struck
Adolf on the shoulder and in the face. The baby squalled, but
Adolf's caterwaul was an aural dagger. Blinded by the freezing
chemicals, the demon toppled to the floor on his back, claw
slashing at the air. Jack kept the spray going as Adolf tried to
rise, fell again and started crawling across the floor, a little
foam-covered kicking thing.
"Put it down!" someone shouted, to Jack's left. Two
security guards stood there, and one of them had his hand on the
butt of his pistol. "Put it down!" he repeated, and
half-drew the gun from its holster.
Jack ignored the command. He knocked out the rest of the window's
glass with the cylinder and stepped into the nursery, aimed the
nozzle at Adolf and kept spraying as the creature writhed at his
feet. Jack felt his mouth twist into a horrible grin, heard
himself shout, "Die, you bastard! Die! Die!" He lifted
the cylinder and smashed it down on the body; then again,
striking at the skull. Bones—or what served as
bones—cracked with brittle little popping sounds. Adolf's
claw struck upward, blindly flailing. Someone had Jack's arm,
someone else was trying to pull him away, the nurse was still
screaming and the place was a bedlam of noise. Jack shook off one
of the guards, lifted the cylinder to smash it down again, but it
was snatched away from him. An arm went around his throat from
Adolf's head—one eye as black as a lump of coal and the
face mashed inward—surfaced from the chemical foam. The
single topaz eye found Jack, and the razor teeth gleamed behind
mangled lips. Adolf's claw locked around Jack's left ankle, began
to winnow through the flesh.
Jack pressed his right foot against the grinning face and stomped
all his weight down with the force of fury behind it.
The demon's skull cracked open, and what came out resembled a
lump of intertwined maggots. Jack stomped that too, and kept
stomping it until all the wriggling had ceased.
Only then did Jack let himself fall. Darkness lapped at his
brain, and he was dragged under.
He awakened in a private room, found his hands stitched up,
freshly bandaged and immobilized. Minus one index finger, which
he figured was a cheap price. His left ankle was also bandaged,
and he had no sensation in his foot. Dead nerves, he thought.
He'd always believed a cane made a man look distinguished.
He didn't know how much time had passed, because his wristwatch
had been taken away with his bloody clothes. The sun had gone
down, though, and the reading light above his bed was on. The
taste of medicine was in his mouth, and his tongue felt furry.
Tranquilizers, he thought. He could still hear rain tapping at
the window, behind the blinds.
The door opened, and a young fresh-faced nurse came in. Before it
closed. Jack caught a glimpse of a policeman standing out in the
corridor. The nurse stopped, seeing he was awake.
"Hi." Jack was hoarse, probably from the pressure of
that arm around his throat. "Mind telling me what time it
"About seven-thirty. How are you feeling?"
"Alive," he answered. "Barely." The nurse
looked out through the door and said, "He's awake," to
the policeman, then she came to Jack's bedside and checked his
temperature and pulse. She peered into his pupils with a little
penlight. Jack had noted there was no telephone in the room, and
he said, "Think I could get somebody to call my wife? I
imagine she'd like to know what's happened to me."
"You'll have to ask the lieutenant about that. Follow the
Jack obeyed. "The babies," he said. "They're all
right, aren't they?"
She didn't answer.
"I knew he'd go for the babies. I knew it. I remember what
the boy said, that Satan—" He stopped speaking,
because the nurse was looking at him as if he were a raving
lunatic and had taken a pace away from the bed. She doesn't know,
he thought. Of course not. The security would have clamped down
by now, and the shifts had changed. All the blood had been
cleaned up, the bodies zippered into bags and spirited to the
morgue, the witnesses cautioned and counseled, the relatives of
the dead consoled by hospital administrators, the physical damage
already under repair by workmen. Jack was glad he wasn't director
of public relations at Marbury Memorial, because there was going
to be hell to pay.
"Sorry," he amended. "I'm babbling."
She gave him the choices for dinner—chopped steak or
ham—and when he'd told her what he wanted, she left him. He
lay musing that seven hours ago he'd been fighting a trio of
demons from the inner sanctum of a young boy's insanity, and now
he was choosing chopped steak over ham. Such was life, he
thought; there was an absurdity in reality, and he felt like the
victim of a car crash who stands amid blood and wreckage and
frets about what television shows he's going to miss tonight.
Demons or not, the world kept turning, and chopped steaks were
being cooked down in the kitchen. He laughed, and realized then
that the tranquilizers in his system were either very potent or
else the shock had really knocked his train off the tracks.
It wasn't long before the door opened again. This time Jack's
visitor was a man in his mid-forties, with curly gray hair and a
somber, hard-lined face. The man was wearing a dark blue suit,
and he looked official and stiff-backed. A policeman, Jack
guessed. "Dr. Shannon," the man said, with a slight
nod. "I'm Lieutenant Boyette, Birmingham Police." He
pulled out his wallet and displayed the badge. "Mind if I
Boyette positioned a chair closer to the bed and sat down. He had
dark brown eyes, and they did not waver as he stared at Jack
Shannon. "I hope you're up to some questions."
"I suppose now's as good a time as any." He tried to
prop himself up on his pillows, but his head spun. "I'd like
to call my wife. Let her know I'm all right."
"She knows. We called her this afternoon. I guess you'll
understand we couldn't tell her the whole story. Not until we
figure it out ourselves." He took a little notebook from the
inside pocket of his coat and flipped it open. "We've taken
statements from Miss Douglas, Mrs. Partain, Mr. Crisp, and the
maternity ward staff. I expect you'll agree that what happened
here today was ... a mite bizarre."
"A mite," Jack said, and laughed again. Now he knew he
must be doped with something very strong. Everything was
dreamlike around the edges.
"From what we can tell, you saved the lives of a lot of
infants down on two. I'm not going to pretend I know what those
things were, or where they came from. It's all in Miss Douglas's
statement about what happened to Dr. Cawthorn, Mr. Moon and the
others. Even the psychiatric patients gave statements that
corroborated Mrs. Partain's. Hell, I kind of think some of them
were so shaken up they got their wits back, if that makes any
sense to you."
"I wouldn't doubt it. Probably the same effect as a shock
treatment. Is Miss Douglas all right?"
"She will be. Right now she's in a room a few doors
"What about Rosalee?"
"Mrs. Partain's a mighty strong woman. Some of the
others—like Mr. Crisp—might wind up on mental wards
themselves. He can't stop crying, and he thinks he feels
something on his back. I guess it could've been worse,
"Yes," Jack agreed. "Much worse." He tried to
move his fingers, but his hands had been deadened. He figured the
nurse would have to hand-feed him the forthcoming chopped steak.
A weariness throbbed deep in his bones: the call of the
tranquilizer for sleep.
It must have shown in his face, because Boyette said, "Well,
I won't keep you long. I'd like to know what happened after Mrs.
Partain locked you and Mr. Chambers on the eighth floor." He
brought out a pen, poised to jot notes.
Jack told him. The telling was hard and got more difficult as his
bruised throat rasped and his body and brain yearned for rest. He
trailed off a couple of times, had to gather his strength and
keep going, and Boyette leaned closer to hear. "I knew where
Adolf was headed," Jack said. "The babies. I knew,
because I remembered what the boy said. That's why I went down
there." He blinked, felt the darkness closing in again.
Thank God it was all over. Thank God he was alive, and so were
the babies. "What . . . what floor am I on?"
"Three." Boyette's brow was furrowed. He had leaned
very close to the bed. "Dr. Shannon . ; . about the bodies.
The demons, or things, or whatever the hell they were."
"Demons, yes. That's right. They were holding the boy
together." Hard to stay awake, he thought. The sound of rain
was soothing, and he wanted to let his eyes close and drift away
and in the morning maybe the sun would be out again.
"Dr. Shannon," Boyette said, "we only found two
"What?" Jack asked—or thought he'd
asked. His voice was almost gone.
"We found the body of the one in the nursery. And the one
that looks like a spider. We wrapped them up and got them out of
here. I don't know where they were taken, and I don't want to
know. But what happened to the third one? The one you called
"Shot it. Shot it twice. It split open." His heart had
kicked, and he tried to lift himself up but could not move.
"Killed it." Oh God, he thought. "Didn't I?"
"There was only the one that looks like a spider up on
eight." Boyette's voice sounded very far away, as if at the
end of an impossibly long tunnel. "We searched the entire
floor. Took the place to pieces. But there's no third body."
"There is ... there is," Jack whispered, because
whispering was all he could do. He could no longer hold his head
upright, and it slid to one side. His body felt boneless, but a
cold panic had flooded him. He caught sight of something across
the room near the door: a vent grill. What if Frog had recombined
itself? he thought through the brain-numbing frost. What if Frog
had crawled into the vent on the eighth floor? But that was over
seven hours ago! If Frog was going to the maternity ward, why
hadn't it struck there already? "The ducts," he managed
to rasp. "In the ducts."
"We thought of that. We've got people taking the ducts apart
right now, but it's going to be a long job. There are two
possibilities, the way I see it: either that thing got out of the
hospital, or it died in the ducts somewhere. I want to believe it
died, but we'll keep looking until we find the body or we take
the whole system apart—that could be days."
Jack tried to speak, but his voice was gone. There's a third
possibility, he'd realized. Oh, yes. A third possibility. That
Frog, the smartest of Tim Clausen's best friends, is searching
from floor to floor, room to room, peering through the grills and
scuttling away until it finds who it wants.
The one who killed its own best friends.
But maybe it died. Jack thought. I shot it twice, and it split
open. Yes. Maybe it died, and it's lying jammed in the duct, and
very soon someone will remove the screws and a gelatinous thing
with staring eyes and a mouth like a leech will slide out.
Maybe it died.
"Well, I can tell you're tired. God knows you've had one
hell of a day." Jack heard the chair scrape back as Boyette
stood up. "We'll talk again, first thing in the morning.
Jack trembled, could not answer. Could only stare at the grill.
"You try to sleep. Dr. Shannon. Good night." There was
the sound of the door opening and closing, and Lieutenant Boyette
Jack struggled against sleep. How long would it take Frog to
reach his room in a methodical, slow search? How long before it
would come to that grill, see him lying here in a straitjacket of
bandages and tranquilizers, and begin to push itself through the
But Frog was dead. Frog had to be dead.
The sun would be out in the morning, and by then the third of Tim
Clausen's best friends would be lying in a garbage bag, just limp
wet flesh conjured up by infernal madness.
Jack's struggling weakened. His eyelids fluttered, and his view
of the vent went dark.
But just before he drifted off to a dreamless sleep he thought
the young nurse must have come in again, because he was sure he
smelled the meaty odor of chopped steak.